Born on August 12, 1950 in Belfast, Medbh McGuckian started writing poetry as a young child and wrote often in adolescence. She attended Queen's University in Belfast, where she befriended poets Paul Muldoon, Ciaran Carson and Seamus Heaney, and earned her BA and MA in English.
Her first publications, Single Ladies: Sixteen Poems and Portrait of Joanna, appeared in pamphlets by Interim Press in 1980. McGuckian proceeded to work on several collaborative projects, and her first major collection, The Flower Master, was published in 1982.
McGuckian's publications in the U.S. include On Ballycastle Beach (1988), Marconi's Cottage (1992), Captain Lavender (1995), Shelmalier (1998), The Soliders of the Year II (2002), The Book of the Angel (2004), The Currach Requires no Harbours (2007), and My Love Has Fared Inland (2010), all by Wake Forest University Press. A volume of McGuckian's selected poems was published in 1997.
She has won numerous awards, including an Ireland Arts Council Award, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the Cheltenham Prize and the Forward Poetry Prize. She was also the first woman to hold the Writer-in-Residence position at Queen's University.
McGuckian currently lives in Belfast with her husband and children, and is a professor of English at Queen's University.